Thursday 19 January 2012

Great Scot!

These next few years could be interesting ones for the United Kingdom. It could end up a lot less united, for one thing. There's been no end of articles and opinion pieces on the prospect of Scottish independence in the press. It's an interesting debate, certainly, not least the question of the upcoming referendum. A referendum to determine the Scots people's point of view on the matter will happen, it's just a question of when and how. The Scots First Minister, Alex Salmond, wants to hold it in 2014, the hundredth anniversary of the last Scottish defeat of English forces, at Bannockburn. Prime Minister David Cameron instead wants to hold it next year, in the wake of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, and the 2012 Olympics. It's looking more and more likely Salmond will get the timing he wants. There's still the question of the format of the referendum, and the question of whether under-18s will be allowed to vote. Salmond wants an option to vote for full devolution, creating an autonomous Scottish state within the UK; Cameron wants a straight yes/no vote on full independence. I can't really see why the possibility of full autonomy is such a problem for the Prime Minister; perhaps he sees it as a risky step on the path to full independence. Certainly, one can expect a lot of people who are sitting on the fence to vote no if it's a straight question of full independence. Then the PM could bury it for a few more years. Autonomy, on the other hand, could lead to independence in short order.

The referendum result wouldn't be legally binding, in any case, but it's hard to imagine the British government forcing Scotland to remain within the Union if faced with a majority in favour of independence. In any case, we could be looking at a very different political outlook in the British Isles in, say, ten years time. I'm not convinced Scotland could function particularly well as a sovereign state. Although Scotland is the second richest part of the UK, it's still some considerable way behind southern England. I won't pretend to have a list of statistics here, but it's true that most of the money in the UK comes from the south. Which is why everyone thinks we're all rich down here, which is not the case. True, Scotland has got the North Sea oil supply, which could certainly increase its wealth. Yet, if it's going to take a proportional measure of the UK's wealth, it'll also have to take an equal measure of its debt, which could be catastrophic.

There are other cultural considerations. Will it remain under the monarchy? The SNP certainly mean it to, with Scotland existing as a Commonwealth Realm, like Canada or New Zealand. Yet there are strong republicanist elements pushing for independence too. The status of Scotland might be in question for some time. Then again, there's huge public support for tradition in Scotland, probably more so than England. I can imagine a Great Britain in 2050, say, where King William and Queen Catherine rule the Kingdom of Scotland, and over the border lies the United Republic of England and Wales. Salmond points to traditional Scottish links with Scandinavian nations, such as Norway and the Faroes, and seeks to strenghten them. A wise policy, but even Scandinavian interests are coming under more pressure from the European Union (although Norway isn't a member); could a small, independent nation like Scotland stand up to the full force of the EU?

It sets a dangerous precedent, though. How long will Northern Ireland stay within the UK if Scotland achieves independence? What of other nations with autonomous and breakaway areas? There are plenty of countries in Europe and the Commonwaelth whose interests would be better served by Scotland setting the example of continued unionism. How long before Quebec secedes from Canada, or the Basques finally split from Spain? There are plenty of opinions being thrown around. Salmond himself pointed out that there are more giant pandas in Scotland than Tory ministers, and called on all Scots to consdier their position. Has no one thought to ask whether the rest of the UK wants to keep Scotland though? Perhaps we should all vote on it. Personally, I think it's a bad idea, but maybe the government should let them have it and see how they get on alone.

I'll quote Simon Munnery for the final word. "I have solved the problem of Northern Ireland. Give it to Scotland as a divorce present."

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